“The God Who Speaks in Whispers” A Devotion on Psalm 42: 1-2

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”—Psalm 42: 1-2.

When I found my way back to God as a young man (or God found me, take your pick) it began with a deep longing.

Psalm 42 speaks to that sense that there is something missing, something not right, when God seems absent. The Psalmist asks this question of his own soul, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?”

I believe that having one’s soul “disquieted within me” is often an important part of any faith journey. That’s how it was for me. Years later I read the Confessions of St. Augustine and learned that he believed there was a “God-shaped hole” in the human heart. “You have formed us for Yourself,” he wrote, “and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”

I have always found God to be mysterious and elusive. For me it is seldom the loud pronouncement about God or the clarion call that moves me Godward. It is more likely something around the edges, in the shadows.

I am more likely to discern something of God in the still small voice at Elijah’s cave than in the trumpets of Joshua or Gideon.

I call this “the God who speaks in whispers,” the One worth waiting for and listening to, the One our souls long for as a thirsty deer longs for flowing water.

Prayer: Hear our deepest longings for you, O God, and quiet our troubled souls with your holy presence.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for October 4, 2017. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here. Photo: R.L. Floyd, 2017)

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“The Comfortless Time” A Devotion on Psalm 77:2-3

“In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
My soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.”—Psalm 77:2-3.

When I was eighteen years old my mother died. She was 53. That was fifty years ago yesterday. Her funeral was in the little church I had grown up in. I’d like to be able to tell you that my Christian faith was a great comfort to me at the time but it wouldn’t be true. I wasn’t sure about this God who could let such a thing happen.

So later during my long ministry I had heartfelt sympathy with people for whom God seemed absent during a time of great grief. I know what it is like to be so grief-stricken that you can barely function. And sometimes the church makes it harder for grieving people by offering cheerful comfort that really isn’t helpful.

On top of that when God seems absent or remote one can feel guilty that one doesn’t have a stronger, more heroic faith in the face of adversity.

The psalm portion for today acknowledges this reality of being in a comfortless time in one’s life. The Psalmist admits: “My soul refuses to be comforted.”

Certainly the people of ancient Israel had plenty of opportunities to feel God had abandoned them. The wisdom of the faith expressed in this psalm is that even in their roughest of rough patches they remained in conversation with their God. That is why so many of the psalms are complaints or laments. They keep asking, “Where are you God?”

But they never stop asking, questioning, calling, seeking, while they wait in hope for a time of comfort.

Prayer. Jesus promised he would never leave us comfortless. Stay close, O God, even when our souls refuse to be comforted, and give us patience and hope.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for September 19, 2017. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)

“Silence is Golden!” A Devotion on Job 42:3

“I have spoken what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” —Job 42:3

I was taught never to say, “Shut up!” It was considered rude. So I still don’t.

But I am tempted from time to time. I have an allergy to certain pious phrases that I know are meant to give comfort but do not, at least to me. Continue reading

“Staying on the Trail”

“My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.”—Psalm 17: 5

I have belonged to a hiking group for nearly 20 years. We pad around the Berkshire Hills year round, wearing cleats on our boots or snowshoes during the long icy winter. Many of the various trails are well marked, but sometimes one of us will go astray and have to blow a whistle to be searched for and found by the group. Continue reading

“The Great Laboratory of Love” A Devotion on Ephesians 4:1-3

“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” —Ephesians 4:1-3

A pastor friend of mine is known to have told his congregation, “If there isn’t somebody here who rubs you the wrong way you need to come around more often.” Continue reading

“Winners or Losers? Reflections on Vocation” A Sermon on Genesis 32:22-31

What are we to make of this strange story in which Jacob wrestles all night and gets a new name? I think it tells us something important about who our God is and about the identity of God’s people. And I want to reflect on what this story tells us about our own identity and vocation as Christians.

The first thing to notice is that whenever somebody in the Bible is given a new name it is best to pay attention. A new name signifies a turn, a change, a new chapter in the person’s life, and a new calling. A new name means a New Being.

So, for example, Abram becomes Abraham as God calls him to keep the covenant of promise. Saul becomes Paul on the road to Damascus and is changed from being a zealous persecutor of the church into the Apostle to the Gentiles. Fisherman Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus will build his church. Continue reading

“Lots of follows but few friends” A Daily Devotion

Jesus said, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends . . .”—John 15:15

The affection and intimacy Jesus had for his disciples offers a model of friendship that is in contrast to much of what passes for friendship in our time. Continue reading